The California Bootlegging Years
as told to Louise George
Personal interviews with Texas Panhandle men and women born in the early years
of the twentieth century rewarded me with hundreds of stories illustrating their
everyday life. I like to share those stories just as they were told to me.
Ola Covey grew up in a small town in Arkansas. She moved to Texas when she
was twenty-one and went to work in the Gray County Clerk’s office, which was in
Lefors at the time. Soon after she went to work, an election moved the courthouse
to Pampa when it was a boom town and Prohibition was the law. Working in the courthouse
at that particular time gave her a unique opportunity to observe some very interesting
events. In her own words she tells about one such experience.
knew from what they
said around the courthouse that the bootlegging was going on. Of course, they’d
bring the bootlegger in and fine him. I remember one time especially. There was
a prominent lawyer here, a very good lawyer, and he was known to like his booze
pretty well. It was sort of a status symbol to have your own bootlegger, you know.
He came in one morning and he said, ‘Oh, Charlie, (my boss’s name was Charlie)
let me tell you what I found. I found me a really good bootlegger. He brings in
the real stuff.’ Of course, the higher the price was, the greater the prestige.
He said, ‘I got me two crates of it. Of course, it cost. It cost me an arm and
a leg, but I got some really good stuff. Pure Scotch whiskey.’
was after the courthouse had been moved to Pampa,
but before the new court-house was built. We had moved into the basement of the
old First Baptist Church. We just had very limited space and very small desks,
so when this lawyer came in, we all stopped typing and were listening to him tell
about the bootlegger and the stuff he had. He was telling it loud so as to impress
us all. He went on - blah, blah, blah. Finally, he went on out of our office,
but had to go by the sheriff’s office as he left. Since we were in such a small
area, we heard everything that went on. The sheriff said, ‘Come in Charlie.’ (The
lawyer’s name was Charlie too), he said, ‘Come in, Charlie. I want to show you
this paraphernalia. I’m going to send this guy up so far it will take ten dollars
worth of postage to send him a letter. I’m really going to send him up.’
“Charlie, the lawyer, said, ‘Oh, don’t be so hard on him. I may want to represent
“The sheriff took him in and began to show him that stuff. He showed
him all these bottles with these fancy labels on them, and the sealing wax they
were sealed with and everything, and he showed him a big container of pure alcohol
and another of Scotch- colored coloring. So, it was all a fake.
looked at that and his eyes began to bug out and he said, ‘Why, that S.O.B.! I
hope you send him up for a hundred years!’
“‘Don’t be so hard on him,
Charlie,’ the sheriff said, ‘you many want to represent him.’”
Ola Covey is featured in Louise George’s book, Some of My Heroes Are Ladies,
Women, Ages 85 to 101, Tell About Life in the Texas Panhandle. Louise can be reached
at (806) 935-5286, by mail at Box 252, Dumas, TX 79029, or by e-mail at email@example.com.